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It’s time to spice up the wine, with Christmas spirit

Wine’s distinct taste notes and its ability to extract and enhance the flavours of various ingredients in a dish make it a valuable ingredient

(left) Mulled wine; and mushrooms in white wine sauce.
(left) Mulled wine; and mushrooms in white wine sauce. (Photographs by Nandita Iyer)

A lit Christmas tree, jazz playing softly in the background, and the joyful conversations of friends—these, combined with sips of mulled wine, were the highlights of a delightful pre-Christmas party I attended last weekend, which led me to think about the many ways you can enjoy wine.

While pouring yourself a glass and sipping it allows you to appreciate the full range of flavours, aromas, and characteristics of the wine, here are some other ideas to savour it.

Also read | How to train your wine palate

One of the most popular wine-based cocktails is sangria. The basic recipe has red wine, fruit juice, chunks of fruits like apple, pear and sliced citrus, and soda mixed in a pitcher and served over ice. You can elevate the flavour (and the alcohol kick) by adding spirits like cognac, brandy or orange liqueur to the red wine sangria. When making a white wine sangria, aim for crisper lighter flavours with citrus, berries and basil along with added spirits like white rum or limoncello.

To give a Christmas twist to your sangria, throw in some strawberries which are currently in season, pomegranate pearls and orange slices, studded with a few cloves. A few sprigs of rosemary to the pitcher make it look festive as well as fragrant.

Cosy and warming mulled wine is another way to use up an inexpensive bottle of red wine. The Greeks came up with this zero-waste idea in the second century to extend the life of stale wine by simmering it with herbs, spices and fruits and make it more palatable.

Also read | This Christmas loaf has stollen my heart

If you end up adding chunks of fruit to prepare mulled wine, do not discard the strained fruit. The wine-poached fruit goes great with a custard or ice cream. To make a teetotaller version of mulled wine, substitute red wine with a mix of apple, pomegranate and cranberry juice.

For those who find drinking wine straight to be dehydrating or headache triggering, wine coolers are a great alternative. While wine snobs might disapprove, wine coolers offer a lighter, refreshing option compared to drinking wine as is. It is good to know that the alcohol percentage in a glass of wine is 11-13% and the percentage of alcohol in the cooler will depend on how much wine has been used to make it. Combine a crisp white wine with an elderflower tonic, shake well and serve with a sprig of basil or mint.

An unfinished bottle of wine comes with a ticking timer. It needs to be refrigerated and consumed within two-seven days depending on the type of wine, post which there is a noticeable change in taste due to oxidation. Leftover wine is best used in cooking.

Wine’s own distinct flavour and its ability to extract and enhance the flavours of various ingredients used in a dish made it a valuable ingredient in the kitchen. The French have their wine-based sauces to go with fish and meats, the Swiss combine their Emmental and Gruyère with white wine to make luscious fondue, or add it to tart fillings to make wine tarts. But you don’t have to go all Julia Child to make use of wine in your cooking. Think of it as an acidic ingredient that makes salsas, chutneys, curry bases and salad dressings pop.

If nothing else, you can always transform that last bit of wine in the bottle into vinegar by mixing it with half the volume of live vinegar such as apple cider vinegar. Let this sit in a glass jar covered with a muslin cloth and in two-three months, you will have your own home-brewed fancy wine vinegar to use in dressings and more.

Serves 4-6

1 cup orange juice
4 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 orange, sliced
4-5 cloves
1-2 star anise
3-4 cinnamon sticks
1 bottle red wine (nothing expensive)
Quarter cup brandy (optional)

For the garnish
Cinnamon sticks, orange slice, star anise, pomegranate


In a pan, combine the orange juice and brown sugar and bring it to a simmer until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange and whole spices along with the wine and brandy (if using).

On a low flame, simmer this mix for around 20 minutes. Sieve and store in a jug.

Serve garnished with a cinnamon stick, orange slice, star anise or pomegranate arils.

Notes: For a non-alcoholic version, use non-alcoholic wine or a mix of pomegranate and cranberry juice.

Serves 4

400g button mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
Half tsp coarse salt
Half tsp coarsely crushed black pepper
Pinch of red chilli flakes
Quarter cup white wine
1 tbsp butter


Clean the mushrooms by wiping with a wet towel. Leave them whole or halve them depending on their size. Heat a pan (stainless steel or cast iron). Add the mushrooms, shaking the pan so that the surface of the mushrooms turns brown. This will take 2-3 minutes. Remove them to a dish at this point and keep aside.

In the same pan, heat the oil and reduce the flame to low. Sauté the minced garlic and chopped rosemary for 1-2 minutes. Add salt, pepper and chilli flakes along with the mushrooms and toss well to combine. Pour in the white wine and simmer on a high flame for 2-3 minutes. Finish the wine sauce with some butter.

Garnish with some more minced rosemary and serve hot along with toast.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

Also read | How cinnamon flavours festive recipes

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